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More Seuss Protests

That protesting librarian may have had a practical effect upon the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss, if nothing else.

That’s the Dr. Seuss museum in Springfield, MA, which is removing a mural of a stereotypical Chinese man after some children’s authors complained prior to a children’s literature festival in Springfield.

That goes to show you, if you really want something done, get famous people to complain about it.

If the illustration is the only offensive one from And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, it doesn’t provide much support for the protesting librarian’s claim that Dr. Seuss books are “steeped in racist propaganda.”

That just seems like simplistic propaganda itself. Dr. Seuss, like most of life, is complicated.

Regardless, it’s the kind of thing that makes the defenders of Seuss as some sort of perfect children’s author for the ages, which oddly enough seems to be a thing, look pretty silly.

Since he changed over the years, clearly even he didn’t agree with all his previous stereotyping.

The most interesting thing about the news article might be the photo of the children with their Cat Hats reading Cat in the Hat. Take a closer look at that photo for a moment.

If you want to see the sparkling joy Dr. Seuss can bring to children’s faces, that photo is all you need, right?

We can’t know what really went on. Parents and teachers make students do so many stupid things to entertain them with their childish antics that the kids could just be reacting to having to put on a stupid hat and stand in front of strangers.

But of the four children whose faces are visible, all children of color, the first three seem to have identifiable emotions: resentment, disappointment, and righteous anger. I can’t tell about that fourth kid. He could just be sleepy.

They could be reacting to the situation, as I acknowledged, but they could be reacting to the book itself. They look at Sally and her brother and they don’t see kids like themselves.

Sally will always see a kid like herself. In 1957, she’d be about 7, and the kids she’d see in children’s books would be white, middle class, and living in single-family dwellings on quiet suburban streets with other white middle class people.

Sally might eventually come to know resentment and even righteous anger. She might start college around 1968, protest the Vietnam War, get caught in the Second Wave of feminism, and come to challenge injustice in the world.

But that’s all in the future. At the time Sally is a complacent, obedient, and happy little girl living in a society designed to keep her happy, until it’s not.

The kids in that photo are likely just as happy as Sally most of the time, but they don’t live in the same society literally or figuratively. In Sally’s day, they’d have seen few books, TV shows, or movies that depicted anyone looking like them.

Their resentment, disappointment, or anger might understandably rise often when they see the evidence of a society that doesn’t quite see them as part of it even though they are, a society with a decent sized minority of people filled with such hate for people who don’t look like themselves.

The world of Sally, 50 years old now, is gone, and it’s not coming back, regardless of what the throwbacks and hatemongers want. They’re just angry, pathetic people yelling because someone’s not giving them the candy they think they deserve.

And that world changed because of protests. Often enough, given time, the most just protest wins, which is why Martin Luther King Jr. is hailed as a hero and the KKK are considered a bunch of freaks and losers.

The Dr. Seuss librarian’s protest was professionally inappropriate, and really weird, but the problem wasn’t the protest itself, and there’s no problem with Mo Willems protesting this Seuss illustration at the Seuss museum.

The only people who’ll be protesting this protest are the simpletons, but simpletonism is popular, because it’s simple.

The attacks won’t be about professional appropriateness or weirdness. They’ll be along the lines of, “Liberal Freaks Hate Dr. Seuss!!”

It’s a stupid criticism, and almost certainly wrong, but it sure is simple.

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Comments

  1. anonymous coward says:

    Rightly or wrongly (wrongly) protests to this protest won’t be “simpletonism” but a product of protest fatigue. Yes, these protests are valid- but the valid protests exist in a crowded field of protests where each proclaims the same level of validity, regardless of how valid they actually are.

    When everything is protested it destroys the impact of the protest.

    • mud fence says:

      Why do we erase the past? Historically that art was valid then. C-word.

    • anonymous coward says:

      My guess is for 2 reasons:

      The art was still offensive then, but it was at a time and place where the marginalized people weren’t listened to or heard.

      Why to we put the past on a pedestal? things could have been historically valid (is art ever valid? strange descriptor) but no longer right for the space/purpose it’s serving now. They aren’t destroying the original or burning the last copy of the book. Times change- it’s the only constant.

  2. Moth-watching Sneth says:

    No.

    There is great cognitive dissonance in the idea that righteousness is conferred by “protesting”* Dr. Seuss, a long-dead children’s book author naturally decreasing in popularity over time, whose books have never troubled the world, or – absent some bizarre and intrusive adult prompting – furrowed a single child’s brow.

    Our – your – thoughts on the non-matter, cannot matter. The dissonance remains though – this is the decadent Right’s counterpart, the decadent Left: scanning the world for trivia as though searching the ground for pennies, or playing a parlor game, while so much goes unnoticed, or must not be noticed.

    *I don’t suppose we will ever reclaim this word “protesting” from its new sense of – “I saw something from the past that I found imperfectly congruent with the present”?

  3. I personally found those authors protests ridiculous and quite inappropriate. We shouldn’t go erasing our past.

  4. Libertarian Librarian says:

    Simpleton? I’d like to think not. I think anonymous coward sums it up well. Really? Something else that needs to come down. Something else that needs to be protested? Maybe we need to realize that different people are just like us, just different.

  5. Harukogirl says:

    Annoyed, did you notice most of the news sites reporting on this used the WRONG PICTURE? The original picture of the “chinaman” with yellow skin and a braid was being shown on most news articles. The ACTUAL mural used Suess’s update when he acknowledged that his original picture was racist – the mural shows the “Chinese man” without yellow skin and no braid. This to me is a blatant attempt to skew people’s perspective of the situation, as the mural really isn’t objectionable at all. Unless you think it’s racist to depict a Chinese person using chopsticks….which would make all the Chinese soap operas I love to watch horribly racist. I’m not sure how you demand the inclusion of diverse characters and then object that the diverse characters are easy to identify because they use prevalent (and imo none objectionable) stereotypes like chopstick usage. Cause I lived in Asia for 2 years – chopstick usage is not just a stereotype, it’s a fact.

  6. The point seems to be, when there are so many wonderful children’s book illustrations out there in the world that depict scenes that entice children to read and encourage people to come into the library, why select an image that holds the potential to drive them away? A mural that represents all you want the library to be for children–a sense of play and fantastic worlds waiting to be explored–is a very different thing than a book on a shelf that is but one story and perspective and can be dealt with and talked about as an individual thing. I’m all for keeping the books on the shelves and having conversations about context with kids. But an image on the wall sends a message about who the library believes is welcome and who is not. Just in PR terms, this choice seems ill advised, and likely not well thought out.

  7. Raymond Perez says:

    I don’t know that I’m too invested in this one way or the other, but it seems that calling anyone who believes differently than oneself a simpleton is also a less-than-ideal way to deal with these issues. Maybe those simpletons have a point or two that you agree on. Calling them names and placing them beneath you just shuts down any possible conversaion.

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